steven wilder joins booktv on afterwards in an interview with joe madison, talks about his book ebony and ivy, race, slavery and a troubled history of america's universities. we wrap up tonight's prime-time programming and of:00 eastern with the biography of charles manson. visible tv.org for more of this weekend's television schedule. .. >> for making such a beautiful book, as you can see. it really is quite lovely.
i'm talking just about the physicality. you can judge for the insight on your own. [laughter] but as nick said very cogently, this book covers a 30-year span of american history in the middle of the 19th century when nothing much happened. [laughter] there was just, oh, i don't know, the women's movement and the country divided in two, and there were spiritualists and spirit rappers and p.t. barnum all part of the same cultural moment. and then just in case you were getting bored, there was a war, a dreadful war where 750,000 people were killed, and that's probably, that's probably a figure that is not finished being revised upward. and, of course, there was the
period of reconstruction that occurred in the south, and at the same time there was the settlement of the west augerred by the gold rush back in 1848 and completed with the slow and painful and very disturbing removal of the indians from that particular part of the country. just a few things that i concerned myself with for the last years. and it's a strange and complex moment or series of moments in american history as i just suggested, populated by a very unusual group of people that you wouldn't think of necessarily occupying the same historical time, never mind place. and i can give you some of their names. there's, of course, ulysses s. grant and abraham lincoln who always threatens to take over every book that he's part of,
understandably enough. [laughter] susan b. anthony and frederick douglass, charles sumner, william lloyd garrison, harriet jacobs, harriet beecher stowe to name two harriets, emerson was still alive and writing until long after this period. longfellow, you have emily dickinson, william tecumseh sherman, two people i'd love to have seen meet one another. [laughter] as well as victoria woodhall who was the first woman who ran for president of the united states, and there was a woman whose name, a man whose name i won't even bother you with, the man who invented scientology which is rather strange and interesting and unusual. and, of course, or maybe not of course, nathan bedford forest. i could spend the whole time tonight allotted here just
listing names, but not to worry, i'm not going to do that. i'm going to give you a little bit of background how i got into this book, some of the things that were important to me in the writing of it, and then i'm going to read very briefly and be very delighted to take and answer your questions if i possibly can. so to go back to the book itself, i did name some names. now i want you to think for a moment about the tremendous innovations, particularly technological but not exclusively technological, innovations during this particular period. think, for example, the first that comes to mind is, of course, photography. we have, many of us who live here in new york have probably gone b to see the met's show of civil war photography and painting. but it's interesting to think that the civil war was documented in this country from beginning to end by photographers which is shocking,
really. and often when i thought about why it is that the revolutionary war -- which is n a sense, also brother against brother, country against country -- why that war hasn't captured the imagination the way the civil war has in addition to obvious reasons like let's get once of slavery once in a while, the reason is i think this wasn't photography at that particular time, so we don't know what people looked like. we can't really see them strewn maybe for good reason or better on the battlefield. so this photography, there's also the time of the railroads. railroads started just a little bit before this particular period and became so instrumental in the war effort because, after all, they moved so many men and so much munitions during the period of the war and the, to a certain extent, you can imagine why it was that the south was at a
disadvantage or became at a disadvantage, because there were fewer and became fewer lines in the south than there were in the north. and, of course, that's really very important because by 1869 after the war, four years after the war, the transcontinental railroad was finished, and that took even more settlers from the east to the west and presumably back again, although i'm not so sure about that. but nonetheless, that too was very important in this period, and it was important for, as i mentioned before, the native americans who lived in those areas where settlers were going. think, too, the development of brand new american religion which is really so interesting, really becomes dominant and important in this particular period. and when i mention the list of names, i could have put brigham
young in that list as well as everyone else. imagine him meeting emily dickenson. [laughter] and mormonism actually began in new york state, as many of you obviously probably know right in upstate new york in a place called the burntover district because of the series of revivals, religious revivals that had been sweeping through that particular part of the country and then went west and then farther west. so that's part of this period too and, of course, should go and can't go without saying is the anti-slavery movement which was gathering more and more momentum in the years after 1848, particularly after the mexican-american war ended in 1848 when the united states became a much bigger country and the disposition -- sorry about that -- the disposition of the
land that was acquired from mexico was a matter of some concern. shall it be free or shall it be slave? and that a was a dialogue that became so acrimonious, a debate that became so tours that, of course -- furious that, of course, it spiraled into what we think of as the civil war, the war between the states or as the southerners sometimes called it, the war of northern aggression. think, too, of women's rights which i mentioned before. early anti-slavery advocates were, of course, very much involved in the women's movement and were women themselves. but after the war we had a very complicated historical moment when black men are given the vote but not white or black
women, leaving black women doubly disenfranchised. and what was interesting about the passage of enfranchisement amendments is that enemies of both blacks and women liked to pit blacks and women -- black men and all women against one another which was, of course, something the that seemed to me to happen yet again in 2008 during the primary for president and may be still happening, absolutely. and then thinking of that, think of the change in laws. and i'm not just thinking of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments, but i'm thinking of a we nefarious and rather horrible fugitive slave law that allowed southern planters, slave owners to travel north to places like massachusetts and nab men and
women -- black men and women, slave, former slaves or free -- and bring them back south. and it was so horrible, that particular law, that it began to be a kind of resistance movement against it. and, of course, many flocked around what thoreau had called in 1849 civil disobedience. and that, of course, is before the slave, fugitive slave act, but nonetheless, civil disobedience became a very important way to push back against the government as it stood at the time. but with it was also -- but it was also a way of taking the law, i'll talk more about this in a minute, in one's own hands which culminated in, of course, the raid of john brown and his associates on harper's ferry which, to some people, really began the civil war. and in that particular case, it
also, it also involved people who were then -- which was interesting to me to find that this term was used in that period of time -- people who were then guerrillas and who also took matters, law into their own hands. and very often you would see these in the kansas plains where people from missouri would go into kansas and make sure people couldn't, kansans couldn't vote against the slavery, couldn't vote against a free constitution. this was a time, in other words, this was a time of great change, tremendous amount of change; technological change, change in the law, change in terms of people's attitude toward one another, and the belief that you could change everything, you could change anything. you could change your poetry, you could change your prose. i mentioned emily dickenson. she is, of course, the most
fresh, the freshest voice is even today. you think of herman melville changing the shape of the novel. he changed it so much, in fact, in 1850 when "moby dick" was published, he to have torpedoed his career, he went from being a bestseller right to obscurity. but he believed you could change, even nathaniel hawthorne believed in change for a little bit, but didn't like what the change was going to bring. he himself had gone to the utopian community, brook farm. so it's a time of tremendous expectation, huge expectation and great failure as well. it was a time of boisterousness, of the expansiveness of hopefulness and greed, oh, let's not forget good old american greed -- [laughter]
which is very much part of this period. and one of the many things i learned while doing in this book is that the gilded age didn't start in the 1870s. history's not consecutive at all. all of these things are happening at the same time. it's a narrative nightmare, as i'll peek to you about. -- speak to you about. what was it going to do? well, as i suggested, i came to this book in a way from two earlier books. one i'd written a biography of hawthorne as nick mentioned, and to me, hawthorne was a very elusive 19th century figure because it seemed as though he belonged in the 17th century. and yet one, a couple of things about him were so out of keeping with our stereotype of hawthorne. for example, he met abraham lincoln. they didn't spend very long together. lincoln had more important things to do than meet a delegation from massachusetts who was presenting him with a whip. [laughter] something that hawthorne found very amusing, needless to say,
in his grim sort of way. but he talked, he later wrote that hawthorne was the homeliest -- lincoln, sorry, hawthorne was the handsomest man -- lincoln was the homeliest man he'd ever seen, and he was wearing saggy slippers when he met the delegation from massachusetts. but nonetheless, he liked him for his wise and kind look, hawthorne's faint praise, it seems to me, because you mustn't forget that one of his dearest, closest friends was franklin pearce, and you may have forgotten that because he's not exactly a name to conjure these particular days. but he was a southern sympathizer which is really all you need to know for the purposes of this talk, to think of hawthorne being friends with franklin pearce and, of course, that's what i used to like to say would be as if j.d. salinger were friends with, i don't know,
george bush. [laughter] the example's gotten a little dated. dickenson, i wrote a book about dickenson's relationship to a man named thomas wentworth higginson because it was this idea of this strange historical moment when you have the reclusive poet par chance who never crosses her father's house or grounds for anybody or anything enter into a 25, 24, 25-year friendship with a pan named thomas higginson, lost to us now except, of course, from me. but lost to us now but famous in his own time as a fervent abolitionist. and so fervent was he that he was the leader of the first federally-authorized group of black troops during the civil war, long before the massachusetts 54th which was
stationed in, of all places, south carolina. so in that particular sense, i was very intrigued by the particular period, wanted to know much more about it, wanted to do it justice, and that was my first or one of my first questions to myself is how can i be responsible to the complications, the pain, the sorrow, the death, the death tolls of the great sense of liberation, the great sense of failed promise? how could i be responsible to all of those historical events and many of those people who gave everything to make the country a better place and who also gave everything to keep the country from being a better place? how could i be responsible to those events and people and issues and yet tell the story in a different way, a way that actually might say, oh, well, not just another boring book about this particularly -- not
boring time, but nonetheless. and so i decided to do is approach the book, as i've said before, as if i were a visitor from another planet, very far away, and i had just dropped down in the 1850s, 1860s, 1870s, and i had just come here. the first thing you'd want to do is read the newspapers. well, at least that's what i wanted to do. and i thought, well, how would i make sense of a paper, a newspaper from, say, 1850, 1857, 1864 and on and on? in other words, or let me put it in a different way, if you were to come from my other planet and sit down today and read the times, i looked at the times, and i thought, well, i understand everything that's on the front page. but to give you an example, i read, of course, there's a
tremendous and terrible violence in egypt going on, and at the same time as i see that headline, i see charges against two traitors fault jpmorgan for lack of oversight, and then i see finding poetry on the page and later on the canvas. you think, where am i? you know, what planet is this? apology and wikileaks, and you'd say, well, what is even that? [laughter] and and so what i was wondering about is what sense would i make of these juxtapositions as i literally did read them? and the questions that would come to my mind, for example, would be something like what did the rise of the mormon church have to do with the lincoln/douglass debates? they're both reported at the same time. there must be a connection between them. and i don't know offhand what connection is between them, but that was my job to find it out and to create a path between
these two or among many events. in this particular case just as a kind of coming attraction, it seemed to me that the connection between them was the issue of popular sovereignty, and that was, as i mentioned before, the issue of whether you can vote in a sort of almost libertarian style, if you can vote whatever you want in or out of the law. take, for example, slavery at one extreme. take it another extreme -- and i'm not saying the mormons were necessarily involved in this -- but taken another extreme, polygamy. oh, if we want to vote it in, why not? if we want to vote in the ownership of other people, why not? and then you realize that's what the real debate was almost about, and the underlying issue was popular sovereignty which said the issue was ultimately slavery. some of the characters i mention -- forgive me, i think of them not because i think of
them as caricatures, but i think of them as people who populate a kind of almost like landscape. [laughter] nor did p.t. barnum have to do with abraham lincoln, and what did either of them have to do with walt whitman? well, easy lincoln and whitman because whitman adored lincoln. p.t. barnum, i'm not so sure. oh, of course i'm sure. whitman is the p.t. barnum of poetry, after all. whitman lovers may not agree with me -- [laughter] and i see there are some here. but i don't mean any disrespect. do i contradict myself? of course i contradict myself. i contain multitudes which is exactly what the barnum museum did. other questions, why was there spiritualism before the war? i can understand why after the
war you would want to contact the recently departed, there were so many of them. the spiritualism started in 1848, i think of that as, again, when in upstate new york you hear there are two sisters who hear knocks, and they begin to interpret those knocks, and they can actually, they can actually tell you and give you, put you in communication with loved ones you have lost or perhaps not even loved ones, but usually loved ones. and many of them, especially the quakers, especially the quakers who went to the fox sisters, the quakers would find out that there was no slavery in heaven which was -- [laughter] so you see what i mean in that particular context, what i mean is that i was interested in bringing together various questions or various items, various people, various events and trying to figure out what
their relationship had to do with one another. what did reconstruction, if anything, because there may not be answers or other people may have different answers, what did reconstruction in the south after the war have to do with the settlement of the west and the indian wars? and, lo and behold, you realize the war is over, but the wars are not over. and that is something to think about as well because -- does not necessarily signal the end of fighting. many of the military, sherman, sheraton or custer who were soldiers during the war, particularly in the north, they went to the west, and they became part of the army movement out there. so asking these kinds of questions, seeing these juxtaposition, coming in from my other planet and looking at these disconnected events or
people suggested to me a different kind of path perhaps that i could take through this material and also allowed me then to rethink the material itself. so instead of necessarily rehearsing for you what happened at bull run or first ma nas us depending on what you want to call it, i thought i would think about how is it covered? who covered it? who were the journalists there? how did they get there? how did they get their dispatches? did they write it at night in the tent and have somebody to ride it to could town very quic? that got me to thinking about the journalists who covered the war. not just, as i said, the photographer. or in that particular context or stepping back from that context, i began to wonder why was it that many of the photographers that we associate with the war like alexander gardener and timothy o'sullivan, two major
ones that you see again at the met show or in any discussion or you see in any viewing discussion of the civil war, why did they go west after the war? that's where they went. and they did landscape paintings -- photographers with no people in them generally. sometimes, but generally often not. so there must be a reason more that, and that struck me as really so interesting. so i wanted to come at those events, people, historical schisms that we're familiar with in an unfamiliar way. another example, lincoln's assassination. we know lincoln was assassinated. i'm not going to tell you otherwise. but what i will tell you that when lincoln was assassinated, there were a group of guerrillas -- speaking of guerrillas -- from missouri who
were headed east, they were headed to washington, and they were coming to kill the president. makes you wonder if one didn't, somebody else might have. the interesting thing is that they were too drunk to get, i don't think, much farther than, oh, i don't know where, but they didn't get very far before they heard the news, and that was the end of that. it was kwantrell and his gang, if you're interested. very unsaverly group of people, and i try not to make too many value judgments. i don't want to ignore, as i said, these kind of angles or different angles. so instead of them talking about the assassination per se, i'm also going to talk to you about or tell you about the conspirators who were executed as -- because or one of the, or
i suppose this is a strange claim to fame, the first woman to be executed in the united states was one of the lincoln conspirators or alleged lincoln conspirator. her name was mary serant. and when several people who were in part of the military tribunal who called for this execution, they asked the then-president andrew johnson for a stay of execution, and he said -- and i really must quote this to you -- he said, he denied the stay and he said not enough women had been hanged in this war. so she was. in fact, hanged. or i'll tell you the story about willkie james who went down to florida after the war. he'd been in the massachusetts 54th, he went to florida to start a plantation where he would pay black laborers and create a kind of new brook farm. it didn't really work out
because of the great backlash against the free black in the south. and so i wanted to tell these kinds of stories also partly because i believe that history is embodied and it's often embodied in people at particular time who are, as i said, confident, confrontational, eccentric, sometimes fanatic, often fanatic, and who may or may not compromise. that's one of the book's subtitles. and who are intent on redefining the american nation and also doing that, i wanted to cleanse myself as much as possible of received wisdom. lots of things we do know about, but there are numbers of things that we think we know about, particularly me, who always feels that she's been miseducated. and in that case one such
example would be the person, thaddeus stevens, who you may have met most recently in the spielberg "lincoln" movie where he was played by tommy lee jones, very nicely. he did not seem like a creature out of birth of a nation where he was dreadfully caricatured, but it was that caricature of thaddeus stevens with a clubbed foot that was supposed to be a sign of the devil that i learned about when i studied history. someone recently said to me, well, who taught you history, southerners? it was actually, no -- [laughter] it was actually hart of around whole -- part of a whole school of students reconstruction called the dunning school. and dunning had been a professor at columbia and a famous book of his published in 1907 and
influenced "birth of a nation" and me. [laughter] makes me very old. but thaddeus stevens, one of the interesting things i can summarize for you about thaddeus stevens, when he was sick and dying and knew he was going to die, he had a plot, a cemetery plot, that he bought near lancaster, pennsylvania. and be when he realized that that cemetery was not integrated, it was segregated -- no black men or women allowed in it -- he gave up the plot, and he made sure that he was buried elsewhere, and then he had written on his tomb something that bears your attention even though it's worthy, he said: i repose in this quiet and secluded part not from any natural preference for solitary but such as to raise -- i've chosen that it might be unable to illustrate on my death the principles which i advocated through a long life; equality of
pan before his creator. which i find very moving, actually, that he would make those choices, that he would want that in perpetuity. so in that particular sense, as i said, i'm cleansing myself of certain kinds of prejudices, and i want to expand our sense of this particular period. so two other choices i briefly want to mention to you, they're both, they both reside in the beginning of the book. because be you, you know, many of your are writers, and one of the things one calls think abouts about is how do i begin? why do i begin which is another question -- [laughter] that i will not deal with here. these are the questions i don't want later. [laughter] in any event, my first thought and the first chapter begins with a filibustering expedition to cuba. pily buster -- filibuster at the particular time did not mean people standing up in the house or the senate, particularly like
wendy davis, and talking for a long time. it was a word that described expeditions that went, illegal expeditions that went to various countries like cuba armed to the teeth and also funded by former congressmen in the government, and in this particular series of expeditions and the one i begin with, the intention was to go to cuba, liberate it from the spanish, annex it to the united states -- sounds a little bit like bay of pigs almost -- annex it to the united states and, best of all, make it a slave state. what was interesting to me about that besides the sheer insanity of this idea that one could, again, take law into one's own hands, ignore neutrality laws and just go and say i'm taking you -- bringing you home so that you can wear it like a pin on uncle sam's breast pocket.
no, no, that's not even what interested me, although that's pretty interesting. what interested me is we never think of a book that contains a large middle section about the war begin anything cuba. but in a sense it does. the west is just as important as the south, and it's the extension of the south. and then i thought, well, that's fine, but why not begin even earlier? because, after all, john quincy adams, the last sort of remnant, genetic remnant of the founding fathers, who was the president himself and who is now in the house of representatives, in 1848 he died in the house of representatives. he died as he lived, serving his country, and he died after saying no. great. because emily dickenson, of course, said no is the wildest word we have in the language.
and john quincy adams had said no. he was voting against draping generals from the mexican war in more gold brass and medals. he wanted no part of that war. the war was over. he knew what was going to happen, or he forecast with gloom because he had been dealing with the anti-slavery movement for a very long time. and he said no. and i thought that was rather marvelous because at the end of one era and, of course, it's very much the beginning of another era, an era of resistance, and as i said, of change. an era of ec ecstasy in all sens of the word. ecstasy as liberation, ecstasy as freedom, ec ecstasy as happiness, as rapture, ecstasy as delirium. so it was a way to begin to
understand, for me, what those nos where going to come to mean and what it meant to try to change the law or to put one's self up against the law or to say no in so many cultural and political ways. and with that and with that sense is where i want to leave you for my remarks and actually just read you very briefly from the opening of book which is straight after quincy adams' death. and the present was and future would also be a time of delirium, failure, violence and refusal; refusal to listen and find or create that hard common ground of compromise, refusal to bend so great was the fear of breaking, refusal to change and refusal to imagine what it might be like to be someone else.
john quincy adams knew how to say no, but that negative could be inflexible, ideological, fanatical, particularly when some considered refusal a better tool than compromise or when compromise itself was so flak sid and unjust to be meaningless, particularly if it evaded matters of human rights and dignity. in short, america was an ecstatic nation, smitten with itself and prosperity and invention and in love with the land from which it drew its riches, a land grand and fertile, extending from one sea to another and to which its citizens felt into it med. yet there was a problem, a hitch, a blot, a stain. the stain was slavery. that john quincy adams knew, and because of it he forecast with doom the price the country would have to pay. some of the people and many of the events in this book are so familiar they seem ready-made; lincoln, the confederate general
george picket's charge at gettysburg, robert e. lee meeting the scruffy, cigar-smoking ulysses s. grant. but the richness and variety during this time of crisis bring into focus other events, other characters. the impounding of the schooner pearl as it tries to flee washington, d.c. with a boatload of fugitive slaves. the day hungry women ran through the streets of richmond begging for bread during the war. susan b. anthony riding on wagons without springs through kansas to secure the ballot for women. exuberant men such as walt whitman and.t. barnum -- p.t. barnum, horace greeley changing his political stripes. the execution of the lincoln conspirators and head of the
anderson prison. and then the impeachment of a president. anna, not emily dickenson, on the stump at new york's cooper union, the saga of the anti-slavery general rufus saxton fired from the friedman's bureau by a soon-to be-disgraced chief executive and the grandeur and promise of freedom whether to the mormons or the men such as clarence king who possessed nature in the wild or thought he had. and there was the war, the terrible war and all the while before, during and after it the idea of compromise which was being bandied about, debated and often held responsible for the country's failure to face its fatal flaw, for its selfishness and shortsightedness and for the reconciliation at the end of reconstruction that opened a new era beyond the scope of this book of jim crow.
i don't presume to say what people should or should not have done which is not to suggest i'm without judgment, sorrow or at certain times astonishment. still, by placing contradictions, principles and, yes, compromises next to one another, perhaps we can emphasize what the choices people may or may not felt they had given the exigencies within which they lived and the very mixed motives we come to understand be we do, but through a glass darkened. for in the roiling middle of the 19th century when americans looked within not without, there was an unassailable exuberance and spirited and nutty and frequently cruel or brutal. there was also a seemingly insatiable and almost frenetic quest for freedom expressed in several competing ways for the possession of things, of land and, alas, of person.
and in instances there was a passion, sometimes self-righteous, sometimes self-abdicating, for doing good even if that good included for its sake and in its name acts of murder. thank you. [applause] i will take questions, and michael has the -- so he gets to choose. choose nice ones. >> i'm interested in clarence king, a man with a very big secret. could you say more about him? >> i could say much more about him and, in fact, he was, became very interesting to me. the secret to it eluded to here
is the fact that clarence king was a very young man. he didn't go to the war but, rather, went west and surveyed the west and became the first chief of the united states surveying expedition, was very well known, a bon vivant, brilliant man, evidently. a club man, a good man, a man who wanted to be a writer and wrote a very popular and still, i think, very good book called "mountaineering in the sierra nevadas," a man who loved the west and who kept a secret, and the secret was that he was the common law husband of a black woman in new york city or in queens, i think. he told her, he gave her an alias. she never knew that he was
clarence king, and his friends who included notables like henry adams, they never knew that clarence king had this secret marriage and several children. so he's interesting. [laughter] the reason why he's in this book is not just because of that, interesting though it is, is because he brings us to the west. he loves the west, and he's there as a kind of pioneer after the war who takes it to the west and seems to be enthralled by ruskin and beauty and mountains. and not keeps the secret, but actually begins to mine and explore the west for his and other people's riches. so he's a complex man. brilliant scientist who authored a paper called -- i don't think i can pronounce it -- in the
1870s. and he was talking about, he was positing a different view of evolution. different from darwin's on the one hand and different from agassi, the scientist, on the other hand. and what he talked about was catastrophe and how they change the course of how geology, how the mountains, how all things developed. so it was so interesting to me that here he was, a man who evaded the war somehow and for some reason, also still dealing with the war in the 1870s, had been a remarkable success by all standards and yet had this secret life which seemed to me then to give us a sense of really what reconstruction was all about. it was about a westward movement, it was about denial, it was about secrecy, it was
about rapacious greed, it was about brilliance, really, and achievement. and it was ultimately, as henry adams knew, it was about failure. >> thank you. throughout the wars, you know, vietnam, we had the gulf of tonkin incident with, with the first iraq war, the babies being taken out of the incubators, kuwait side drilling into iraq and then the weapons of mass destruction, you look at a lot of different groups. and there are different groups that have brought us into those wars and their incentives. the groups that you looked at, what were the alliances that you saw that were going across boundaries that you might not think of that were pushing towards war and the conflict and shaping the forces of history to come?
[laughter] >> well, in one sense, and it would be very glib of me what my answer has to be though is everyone. everyone was participating in what you're calling the shaping of history or the kind of move toward war. it's very confusing in ways and humbling to be living now. and as you've mentioned, you know, we're the recipient of many, many wars in anyone in here's lifetime, and then looking back and looking at a war like the civil war and wondering how did it happen, why did it happen, who made it happen? and one of the things, and i was talking about in in this this afternoon in an interview, one of the things you realize is that many people seemed not to know what they were talking about. not that they weren't brilliant, not that they weren't educated
in cases. but they didn't know what war meant. they didn't can have that experience -- they didn't have that experience, they didn't have, they didn't have that imagination for some reason. so when you talk about who brought the war or what kinds of cross-sections of groups, you have people in the south, people in the north. you have really almost everyone i would say except the exceptions would be more salient than the go through who were sort of part of it. and part of the exceptions would have been perhaps strangely enough -- not strangely, but you'll see why i say strangely -- the quakers, certainly, because they're pacifists. whether it's amy and isaac post, william lloyd garrison who also believed very strongly in nonviolence. but thoreau brought his blood up, for sure, he who wrote
"civil disobedience." and the strange person i would put in this brew and probably or some may disagree with me would be somebody like stephen doug -- stephen douglas who when he realized what was happening in the election of 1860 began to really work very hard to keep the south from seceding and actually sat near lincoln at the lincoln inauguration. and i think had he lived, he died shortly after that, probably would have been a force for something are positive, more positive than the racism he's associated with during the next some years. thanks. >> brenda, how did you figure out what to leave out? [laughter] >> so many times, you know, i felt on the one hand every sentence in the book actually had, i was sure, a shelf of
books, you know, written about it. and then when you have someone like lincoln, you realize there's a whole presidential library dedicated to him. so there's a huge amount that i was leaving out all of the time. what i decided to leave out was, i guess, based in sort of two, sort of didn't fall into two categories. one was, as i said earlier, i wanted to be responsible to the history that i felt that i had been contracted to tell. in other words, that i can't leave out certain things. as i mentioned to you, i'm not going to leave out the gettysburg address, for example, because it's such a historical, important moment for language, for the war, more so many things, for lincoln himself. so it had to fall into that category. and the second category is that it had to help me narrate the story that i wanted to narrate, so it had to have some kind of dramatic movement.
it had to move the drama, had to move the narrative forward. and if it didn't, then it really did have to go onto the cutting room floor. and believe me, the floor, so to speak, was rittered with -- littered we events, people, what have you, that didn't get in. but those are the two kind of litmus tests that i used. and i was very grateful to my editor who basically never balked at the page number and who didn't say, well, you can't do this, this and this. so i kept in whatever i really thought was germane to the story which was why the book is not 20 pages, something like that, you know? [laughter] the war, the war came, the war was over. [laughter] yes. >> why do you think b new york was such a hotbed of religion
and spiritualism in that period? >> well, that's a good question. i really -- you know, i've often asked myself, and i'm somewhat familiar with the area where new york was a hotbed, for one thing anyone that's been to the area in upstate from, i suppose, syracuse to the left which is to say west, maybe albany to the left. anyone who's familiar with that particular area knows that it's very different from down state, and to my mind, it always is, seems to me, much more like the midwest, what we call the midwest now and then was the west. it seemed like the west in senses. it's agricultural. i think that that there was a sense of a tremendous need in the sense, a need for something that wasn't the congregationalism or even the unitarianism of boston, the sort
of straight-laced world there, and there was a sense also that you could create new things and that you could speak to god directly through various means or in various groups that became open many that territory because it was somewhat open territory it was western, what we think of western. that would be my off-the-cuff kind of answer. ultimately, it's a fascinating question, and i don't know anybody's really dealt with that, you know, sufficiently. there's two right here. >> in the course of writing the book, did you change any preconceptions, did you experience a change of opinion about feelings you had concerning this period before you wrote? >> well and, again, this'll sound gullible, but one change of opinion was i went from mass
confusion to less confusion. [laughter] i don't know if that's an opinion, but it always seems like, it seemed like a blob to me, you know? not to put too eloquent a point on it. reconstruction, as i said, was always a pisly to me because i was never comfortable with the way it was handed down to me. so everything was new. what changed was it wasn't that i went from certain knowledge to different knowledge, it was more as if i went from no understanding to what i'm comfortable with as some understanding now of the reasons for the successes and the failures of reconstruction. that was one thing. and that's been very important to me. for some reason, i find that very, very satisfying because i learned things about political parties, and i learned things about what happened in the republican party, and i learned, you know, that the issue of carpet baggers and scalliwags and, you know, terrible radicals was not the issue at all of what
happened. another thing that i was, that was a happy surprise was that i was, i was a bit skeptical, forgive me, about abraham lincoln. i know he's an icon, i just saw somebody's eyebrows raise. [laughter] because i thought he can't be that good. nobody's that good, you know? he can't be that brilliant, that eloquent, that sagacious, he can't be those things, and i found out that he was, that he really was. and that was kind of chilling and, again, very humbling. so those would be two of the many, many things. >> thank you. of -- >> one of the things that's so exciting about the book is, as you've pointed out, is reading the stories that are familiar to us, and yet you make them fresh and then reading a lot of stories that aren't familiar to us. so the challenge for you as a
writer is how do you take something like the gettysburg address, how do you make it fresh for you and then for us? and the second part of the question is, what stories did you come across that you were especially excited about that were new to you that you knew had to be in this book that were going to illuminate and expand our understanding of the era and give us different characters or different settings or some other kind of understanding of this period? >> yeah. let me take the matter of the example of the gettysburg address, because that's interesting to me. as a writer, researcher, historian, whatever i am while i'm doing this particular book, i'm thinking, oh, god, there's gettysburg looming ahead. what the hell am i going to do? i went to gettysburg through book after book after book on gettysburg. i'm not a military historian. when my husband reads, you know, drafts my books, he always -- not always, but often says i've got the guns pointing the wrong
way -- [laughter] i shouldn't admit that. but i get them right, i get them right. but anyway, so when it came to gettysburg, both the battle and then culminating in the address, i remember it was a very conscious decision and you never know if it's going to work, i taught that a i would begin -- which is something i don't believe in which is the counterfactual -- but in a sense, i began with a different rhetorical device because also i'm always committed to keeping the reader, if i can, interested. especially when he or she thinks they know what's coming. so the rhetorical device was had there been no gettysburg address, you know, we may not -- and then i went through, and i used that device throughout the chapter. had there been none. so to try to whet your appetite for the coming the address which i don't speend spend much time on. i figure you could read gary
wills or whomever you want on the address. but i wanted you to think about what it's like to live inside of time and think you wouldn't have known this address was coming. you wouldn't even have nobody the battle was -- known the battle was coming because it started almost by accident. so had there been, had this not existed, then we would not have done that and thus and such. so that's how i would decide in those particular instances, and that was, that was fun for me. it was exciting for me because each event or person was a challenge about how i would then present it to a reader in a fresh kind of way. about the different and new revelations, there were so many. i mean, one, we mentioned clarence king. actually, when i finished a certain section of the book, i thought, oh, good, now i can move westward, because i want to
get -- and i realized i couldn't move westward. i hadn't set the west up. the question was how do i set the west up? i don't want to set it up just as a place where we're going to destroy another peoples. i want to set it up for what it also represents to people: great beauty, tremendous natural resources not just in terms of gold or copper or trees that can turn into paper, but because of the grand expanse of sheer physical beauty which enthralled the photographers and and, of course, enthralled many groups of people. and that then allowed me to get to west in that particular way. but i could go on and on. there's certainly people i'd known about but not quite known about, like i mentioned anna dickenson, the orator, before who's a revelation to many in ways as well. i didn't know she existed when i was writing a book on emily
dickenson, and something would come up about anna, and i'm like can't they get her name right? no, no, there's an anna dickenson, and she was important in history. she was sent out like a canary into the mines, literally. she was sent to pennsylvania coal miners to talk about anti-slavery movement, and the republicans -- in a very hostile environment. oh, it worked okay, so the rest of us will come out after, which is sort of interesting, the use and abuse of women. but anyway -- >> brenda, can you say something about coming from literature and writing history? >> yeah. [laughter] yes. i'm intrigued that i'm often now introduced as a historian which is fine, i'm very flattered, in fact. history writing and historians were something else that i had to throw out of my wail of
receive -- barrel of received wisdom and prejudices against. but when i, as i mentioned the book on hawthorne and certainly the book on dickenson and higginson, in both of those cases i'm writing about writers, but many both of those cases part of what always interested me is that they live in time. and as i mentioned, someone like hawthorne really did meet lincoln, he went to ma nas us, he was very close with the man who invented the term manifest destiny, all of those things. so i was never that far from history or writing about history. it's just that i was facilitiered through -- filtered through literature. literature is something that i love very much. but it exists in time. as i said, history's embodied -- and so is literature in that way. so when i wrote the book on dickenson and higginson that i mentioned earlier, so much of
that book is nonliterary. it really is about anti-slavery, the abolition movement, what happens to poetry, how it gets published. that's historical too. we don't just need wars or the decimation of native peoples to be history. history can be how a poem gets published in that way. and so, to me, then moving into this book was, this particular ecstatic nation was a tremendous opportunity. it was, it made me -- [laughter] very ecstatic, in fact, to have the opportunity to be able to do what i had been sort of drawn to all along. which means that i didn't sideline literature. if anything, it's cultural and political history in that particular sense, because i think of them as the same. that's what i mean about reading the newspaper. on that front page where you have egypt and chase bank, you also have a story about an art critic who loved emily dickenson and longfellow.
so there we are in that way. i think -- >> thank you very much. >> thank you. [applause] >> is there a nonfiction author or book you'd like to see featured on booktv? send us an e-mail at booktv as c-span.org or tweet us at twitter.com/booktv. >> beginning now on booktv, hans -- [inaudible] discusses his book, "who's counting: how fraudsters and bureaucrats put your vote at risk." from the 20th annual eagle forum collegiate summit. >> our next speaker is hans. he's an attorney and former member of the board of advisers for the federal election commission. he's a staff member here at heritage foundation,